Special program accelerates student entrepreneurship success


Caroline Bryant
Features Editor

For the 2022–23 academic year, the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise is home to 60 student startup projects.

Out of those 60, only eight “serious students” are chosen for the semesterly Seed-to-Scale Accelerator Cohort, an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredited program. It is the fifth semester since the program’s premiere.

The eight include: Taqueria Del Angel, Incog-Needle, Tafika Tickets, Shoe Renew, Ace Bean Coffee, Nexashop, Powered by Verity, LLC and Box Buddy.

“That is a dedicated cohort of serious students that allows us to focus on resources and attention to students who really want the experience of being an entrepreneur here on campus,” founder and Director of the Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Justin Heacock said.

Mentorship and monetary funds are popular resources from the program. The cohort has a “curated list” of professors assigned to students’ startups. This list includes professors from within the business school, across FSC and other external sources. It is also supported by the Small Business Development Council, which are nationwide centers trained to counsel small businesses.

FSC alum Greg Manning is a counselor at the Tampa Bay chapter of the SBDC. Since he also works at Catapult, Heacock said Manning always supports FSC student-ran startups.

Heacock himself is also a connection. Growing up in Lakeland and earning his master’s degree at the University of South Florida, Heacock knows many employers in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay region, that he can connect with students in the cohort.

For instance, Heacock advised Shoe Renew founder sophomore Luke Citarelli to visit a local cobbler to learn more about the material of shoes and how shoes are made. After looking at various samples of shoes and glues, Citarelli has created his third protective strip prototype to increase the longevity of tennis and pickleball shoes.

Thanks to the Accelerator program, Shoe Renew has evolved into the market validation stage of entrepreneurship, discovering how to reach its target market and what its target market wants most out of its product.

“From just a thought [to] then making a prototype off of it, figuring out the right materials to use, who to reach out to, and [to] see if my business is even applicable and wanted,” Citarelli said. “Who to kind of get in touch with who knows about the shoe market and how shoes are made, stuff like that. Looking into websites. I’m doing a lot of research right now.”

Another resource students can earn in and outside of the program is the Plant the Seed fund. 

“We provide basically up to $500 for bills and materials, really no questions asked,” Heacock said. “So really, show me you’re serious and you complete the seed stage. So if you can show me, ‘I’m on something, I framed it out, I know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and I really want to try this,’ we say ‘Great. Here is up to $500 to help you do that.’”

Taqueria del Angel owner Jacqueline Martinez received monetary support from the Accelerator for her Catapult membership. Six months after joining the program and earning the money, Martinez received insurance, health certifications, dignified her recipes and opened pop-ups in the community. What is now a profitable business began as an idea for her BUS 1115 Shark Tank class.

Others earn grants from startup competitions. In its infancy, four students from Accelerator have won state-wide competitions, beating all major state schools in Florida. Lkld Now stated Alumni Brooke Lierman, founder of OvertheShoulder, a runner’s safety device, has won around $20,000 from competitions. OvertheShoulder was another idea pitched for a class project.

Sophomore Nathan Calvary, founder of Incog-Needle, even won grant money from Catapult and Truist Bank his freshman year after finishing last place in his Shark Tank class.

But besides Taqueria del Angel, Over the Shoulder, and Incog-Needle, most ideas pitched in BUS 1115 die when the class ends. The same occurs for most project-based classes at FSC.

That’s why Heacock designed the Innovation Audit portion of the program. The audit breaks down each academic department by class and categorizes possible projects and clubs that could be turned into a startup.

The business school alone produces 270-330 projects each academic year, with 130-160 having “strong possibilities of becoming startups,” Heacock said.

And that number grows when considering all schools at FSC. Projects like escape rooms built in mathematics to singles produced and marketed in MUS 2255: Music Product and Retailing have a chance to grow into a business. Heacock’s job is to convince students, no matter their class or major, to take action on their potential.

“Florida Southern really was kind of like a fire put together, logs already stacked up, entrepreneurship is the match that lit the fire,” Heacock said. “It was already there, it just needed a chance for students to have that experiential education, do that storytelling, reach the higher level, get those resources and go.”


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